Court Denies Intervention in Farmworker Wage Rate Lawsuit

The California Eastern District Court denied attempts from organizations representing agricultural employers to intervene in and stay a lawsuit regarding wage rates for farmworkers after a hearing on Tuesday. 

The court in the matter has already granted a preliminary injunction and required the Department of Labor to calculate wage rates for 2021 under previous rules since the newly proposed rules were not ready. More recently, the parties have been arguing about whether farmworkers should be entitled to backpay because they were paid under 2020 wage rates for the first months of the year. 

Both the plaintiffs, United Farm Workers and UFW Foundation, and the defendant, the U.S. Department of Labor, opposed the motion to intervene which was filed by the National Council of Agricultural Employers and Western Growers Association. The plaintiffs argued last week that the organizations asked to intervene too late, six months after the complaint was filed and five months after they were notified about employers possibly needing to pay back pay based on the new wage rates. The proposed intervenors, however, argued that they were not aware until May that the parties did not have their same objective. 

In Tuesday’s order, the court agreed with the parties, noting that the organizations intervened as an order was being prepared for filing. They said that for a party to have the right to intervene they must have a “significant protectable interest” which could be impeded by the action, existing parties do not represent the interest, and the application to intervene is timely. Further, the court said the rule is general interpreted broadly in favor of the intervenor.

In this matter, however, the court ruled that the intervenors did not demonstrate that their interests were not represented by the defendants or that their motion to intervene was timely. The order said that the court was not persuaded by arguments that the groups recently learned their interests were not represented or that their interests are narrower than the general public and need to be addressed. The judge said that “Defendants and proposed intervenors do in fact share the same ‘ultimate objective’ in opposing equitable restitution in the form of wage adjustments.”

The United Farm Workers are represented by Farmworker Justice and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. The National Council of Agricultural Employers and Western Growers Association are represented by Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP.